Russia says no deal yet to extend Black Sea grains deal


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Russia said on Saturday there was no agreement yet to extend a deal allowing Ukraine to export grain through the Black Sea, reiterating its insistence on unhindered access to world markets for its own food and fertilizer exports.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin, quoted by the official TASS news agency, said talks with UN officials in Geneva on Friday had been helpful and detailed, but the issue of renewing the agreement – which expires in a week – had not yet been resolved.

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He also said there could only be progress if a Russian state bank that finances the agricultural sector was reconnected to the international banking payments system SWIFT, from which it was cut off by Western sanctions.

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According to the United Nations, 10 million tonnes of grain and other foods were exported from Ukraine under the Black Sea initiative agreed in July, helping to avert a global food crisis.

But Russia has repeatedly complained that its own grain and fertilizer shipments, while not directly targeted by Western sanctions, are effectively blocked because the sanctions reduce shippers’ access to finance, insurance and at ports.

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement said Ukrainian grain shipments and the “normalization” of Russia’s agricultural exports were part of a unique package of measures to ensure global food security.

In his account of Friday’s talks, he said only “unimpeded access of Russian food and fertilizer to world markets” would stabilize prices.

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A UN statement on Friday said participants “remain committed to the implementation of the Black Sea Grains Initiative and have held constructive discussions on its continuation.”

Vershinin reportedly said restoring access to the SWIFT payment system for agricultural lender Rosselkhozbank was a key issue.

“Without that, of course, we simply cannot move forward,” he said, adding that Russia had been assured by UN officials that “they also regard this issue as vital.”

The European Union announced on June 3 that it was removing the bank from SWIFT as part of its sixth round of sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine has accused Moscow of playing “hunger games” with the world. Russia, whose warships blocked access to Ukrainian ports until the July deal came into force, denies using the grain issue as a tool to gain leverage in the conflict.

Russia briefly suspended its participation in the deal on October 29 after an attack on its Black Sea Fleet, but returned to it four days later in a U-turn by President Vladimir Putin after mediation by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

Russia withdrew its troops from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson this week, abandoning the only regional capital it had captured since the February invasion. (Writing by Mark Trevelyan; editing by David Evans)

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